Family - A Seattle Advertising Agency

The Secret Formula to Make Everyone Love Your Pre-roll Ads


Why Comedy Is the Most Effective Way to Advertise

I was directing a commercial for AT&T when the composer emailed me a handful of music samples based on my initial notes. My feedback was that the understated track was overly complicated, the inspirational track was flat and the R&B track was way too safe. I called the composer and quoted the legend, Miles Davis, “Be wrong strong.” We zeroed in on a hook buried in one of the samples. I asked the composer to let the groove drive him as long, strong and wrong as it wanted to be. The cut he hit me back with was funkier and nastier than a Sly and The Family Stone jam session. Commitment is the magic formula to everything. Full stop.

The antithesis of this is almost any pre-roll ad you see on YouTube. Pre-roll ads are some of the most reviled dreck in advertising. People loathe them. Unless, of course, it’s a Geico pre-roll ad. In 2015, The Martin Agency was awarded two gold CLIO Awards for the Unskippable campaign. The Cannes film jury singled out the spot “Family” as a Grand Prix winner. It was also named #1 in TV/Film by Creativity. They’re some of the most loved, celebrated and effective pre-roll ads in the short history of YouTube advertising. Why?

The answer is commitment. Someone at the agency thought about where the commercial was being served up and how that environment could be leveraged for humor. Below is a link to the Unskippable campaign.

In 2016, The Martin Agency followed it up with an equally clever campaign, Fast Forward, linked below.

Again, the creative team was thinking about how to use the online medium to their advantage. The spots are self-aware; they understand they’re pre-roll ads. They’re almost winking at the audience. Rather than phoning it in and repurposing a television commercial like many brands do, the creative team embraced the fact that they’re pre-roll ads and made it a core strength. They committed.

In the Unskippable campaign, viewers were rewarded for sticking around longer than the required five seconds, to see what happens after the commercial ends. In the Fast Forward campaign, viewers got one clearly stated benefit in the first few seconds, and then they’re fast-forwarded to the end of the commercial. There’s a link to the full-length versions at the end of the 15-second spots, and the number of clicks is staggering. Millions of people have watched the extended versions of the pre-roll commercials – you know, the thing people typically skip after five seconds. Let that really sink in for a minute. Here’s a link to the full-length versions.

The humor used in the latest campaign is just short of a Skittles commercial — skewing younger. The insurance industry likes to hook potential customers earlier because once they’re satisfied with one insurer, it’s very difficult to lure them away.

Your next homework assignment, if you so choose, is to create a pre-roll ad that takes advantage of the mobile channel. Think young. Think funny. Think about micro moments. And more importantly: commit.

Imagine a pre-roll ad you can skip if you bark like a dog. If they bark, they’re served a landing page (for a couple of seconds) to buy tickets for an upcoming University of Washington (Huskies) basketball game. If this campaign were hyper-targeted to a crowd of people at the same place and time, this could be a pretty funny experience for everyone.

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Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for freelance consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike

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